Braving the pandemic: New restaurants fight the odds

by Tallahassee Table

The pandemic has been a nightmare for most restaurant owners yet it hasn’t kept many entrepreneurs from following their dreams of being a restaurateur.

 While nearly a dozen restaurants have closed in Tallahassee since March (they don’t all attribute closures to Covid-19), at least 17 new venues have decided to face the challenges and launch a new business.

“No one in their right mind would open a wine bar in the midst of the coronavirus,” said Greg Hajcak, who did exactly that. ”But we were beyond the point of no return.”

He and his business partners opened The Hummingbird Wine Bar in Midtown this summer. Along with a wine bar they have a wine club that now has 130 members. But you don’t have to be a member to eat or drink at the wine bar, which has a large outdoor deck.

“It’s been really scary,” said Greg, a professor of psychology at Florida State University. “We were really lucky that we had a group of people join the wine club early on. We won their trust and if not for that core group, I’m not sure we’d be around.”

For Tarun Gupta and his business partner Drew Rudolph, navigating their first business and the coronavirus has been doubly hard. They opened an Indian fast-food place with homemade dishes in September.

“The biggest thing is the uncertainty,” said Tarun. “With the pandemic we’re not sure how out of whack our numbers are. We haven’t been open in normal times to gauge how well we’re doing.”

It’s also been tough to get ingredients, particularly since many are imported, said Tarun.

Many newcomers have had to forgo grand opening splashes, space out tables, turn to non-contact menus and load up on masks and hand sanitizer. Most restaurants, even upscale establishments, have had to embrace takeout and limit crowds.

The owners of Chuck’s Fish originally planned to open in January but due to the pandemic, work was stalled and the launch delayed till late summer.

“I think the people in Tallahassee must have thought there are idiots opening a restaurant now,” Charles Morgan III said shortly after the restaurant’s opening, but the downtown venue has been attracting clientele for its brunch, dinner and outdoor deck. 

“There are definitely challenges,” Max Winger said after opening his restaurant, specializing in Philly cheesesteaks. “I’m doing the best I can to brave the storm and keep it going.”

Here are restaurants and food trucks that I know of, that have opened since March. If you know of any others, please share. 

Photo credit: Argonaut Coffee

Argonaut Coffee/Jeri’s Midtown Cafe: The coffee shop is partnering with Jeri’s and Midtown Reader to launch a cozy cafe in the bookstore’s second floor spot formerly home to the venerable Lucy & Leo’s.The food menu includes classic biscuits with blueberry whipping cream, charcuterie and cheese boards, croissants and pimento cheese tea sandwiches as well as Argonaut java, smoothies and specialty drinks. It’s now having a soft opening. 1123 Thomasville Rd.

Photo Credit: David Blow

Blows Buss Down food truck: David Blow has launched this new food truck offering an array of items including catfish, Philly cheesesteaks, wings, salads and kids’ meals. Check the truck’s Facebook page for Blow’s schedule. 850-294-7975.

Photo credit: Bourne Brilliant

Bourne Brilliant: Sisters Lyrica, Zaira and Nadira Leo, aged 13, 12 and 9 respectively (with help from mom) sell their homemade items, including plant-based food, pastries and teas. They have just expanded to a cafe at 242 E. Orange Ave., 850-354-8618 with retail space in the Railroad Square Breezeway Market, 618 McDonnell Dr.; 850-391-8541.  https://www.restaurantji.com/fl/tallahassee/bourne-brilliant-/

Cafe Yerushalmi: This is likely Tallahassee’s only full-service kosher restaurant. Cafe Yerushalmi serves homemade fare “from the Heart of Jerusalem.” Owner Magi Mekaiess prepares authentic dishes such as shakshuka (eggs poached in a tomato sauce), bourekas (a baked pastry with varied fillings), hummus, grape leaves and falafel. 910 Lake Bradford Rd.; 850-807-9895.

Photo credit: Chow Time

Chow Time Grill and Buffet: It’s been a long time coming but the restaurant, Chow Time Buffet and Grill, will be opening its doors for a grand opening Nov. 17 at 1849 Capital Circle NE. The restaurant features all-you-can-eat at a set price. For both lunch and dinner, there are reduced prices for children under 11 and tykes under three eat free. 850-765-2961. 

Photo credit: Chuck’s Fish

Chuck’s Fish: Fresh, Gulf fish and sushi star at this upmarket downtown restaurant, with a bar and outdoor deck; dinner and brunch available. The Gulf fish comes from the restaurant’s seafood market in Destin. Chuck’s also operates nonprofit food trucks called American Lunch that bring free meals to hard-hit communities in the cities where their restaurants are located. Brunch pictured at top of story; courtesy of Chuck’s. 224 E. College Ave.; 850-597-7506. 

Photo credit: Eggcitement food truck

Eggcitement food truck: The Eggcitement food truck, from the folks at Tally Mac Shack, specializes in “monster” handcrafted breakfast sandwiches. Online ordering available.  1108 Call St. Check Facebook for off-campus stops. 

Fly-By Phillys: Philly cheesesteaks, Pizza Steak and other variations of the Philadelphia classic, plus fries, are available at Fly-By Phillys. 292 N. Magnolia Dr.; 850-404-9928.

Photo credit: Hummingbird Wine Club

Hummingbird Wine Bar: The “name of the game” at the wine bar and club, is broadening and deepening customers’ experience with wine, said co-owner Greg Hajcak. He and fellow sommeliers joke they want it to be a “home for wine nerds.”  They offer wine tastings, a casual menu including cheese boards, paninis and homemade pimento cheese, blind tastings and an outdoor porch where people can eat and sip. It’s open to the public but they also offer a wine club with member perks and wine deals. 1216 N. Monroe St.; 850-296-2766.

Kami Poke and Korean Kitchen: This casual spot features an extensive menu of Korean favorites like beef bulgogi, bibimbap (rice with beef, veggies and a fried egg) and japchae (glass noodles) as well as sushi and poké bowls. Currently takeout only. 1779 Apalachee Pkwy.; 850-765-8272. 

Photo credit: Max’s

Max’s Cafe: Owner Max Winger specializes in Philly cheesesteaks (with a chicken Philly and vegan and vegetarian versions), shakes and fries. 1600 W. Call St., Suite 104; 850-765-8413.

Midtown Noodles Bar: The pan-Asian restaurant offers ramen noodle combos, along with an array of Thai, Japanese, Korean and Chinese fare. They also serve boba tea. 1660 N. Monroe St.; 850-999-3023.

Photo credit: Tallahassee Democrat

Munchies Pizza: Eric Riser was building up his Munchies Pizza restaurant when shutdowns occurred due to Covid-19 but his business exploded when he started offering deep-dish Chicago pizza that’s nearly two inches high. He opened a second location this summer at 2475 Apalachee Pkwy.;  850-895-9337. The original site, Munchies Pizza Campus, is at 695 W. Virginia St.; 850-759-0660.

Naantheless: Tarun Gupta and his friend, Drew Rudolph, are serving inexpensive, quick but homemade Indian street food in their storefront space. Open lunch and early evenings weekdays. 2020 W. Pensacola St.

Photo credit: OverUnder Bar

OverUnder Bar:  Live music, piano, wine and food pairings set apart this new two-story bar/restaurant in the former Wine Loft venue. 1240 Thomasville Rd.; 850-597-7552.

Park’s Twisted Pizzeria and Grill:  New York-style pizza, wings, sandwiches, burgers and brews are the staples here. 2819 Mahan Dr., Suite 110; 850-999-8147.

Solle’s Pizza: The New York-style pizzeria also serves pasta, subs, calzones and strombolis. 4019 Fred George Rd.; 850-536-7288.

Volcano Hot Pot & BBQ: This branch of a Kissimmee restaurant serves BBQ and make-your-own traditional  hot pot. They recently started offering takeout family bundle deals. 1872 Thomasville Rd.; 850-222-6888.

World of Beer: The local branch of this national chain offers a full, casual menu plus 45 craft beers on tap,  a huge list of beers in the cooler and a range of liquor. 830 E. Lafayette St.; 850-898-2050.

Yasou Mediterranean Cafe: The new, local Southwood restaurant, owned by George Maximos, had its grand opening Nov. 3. The menu features primarily Greek cuisine, including a variety of kebabs, gyro sandwiches and plates, mixed grill, Greek fries, spinach pies and falafel, as well as beef or chicken shawarma, baba ganoush (eggplant puree). They also serve beer with a frozen Stella beer head (like a slushy topping) and baklava ice cream. “Yasou” means hello or “to your health” in Greece. 3551 S. Blair Stone Rd.; 850-692-3415.

Opening soon: Gilliam Sisters Soul Food at 1710 W. Tharpe St.

Closures

Just want to say goodbye to the restaurants that have closed since March. While many restaurants were impacted by the virus some closings were reportedly not Covid-related, or at least not the main cause.

Arepana Latin Grill, Chi Chis, Chuys, Damfino’s Cafe & Market (in downtown Quincy),

Lucy & Leo’s, Marie Livingston’s, Mellow Mushroom, Spear-It, 

Sugar Rush — the Tallahassee Bannerman site only. All Saints’ site remains open. 

Sushi Tokyo

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